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CITY WORKERS TAKE CONTRACT PROTEST TO PARK

A long-festering contract dispute moved from City Hall into Delaware Park on Friday as unionized blue-collar employees conducted informational picketing during the Olmsted Winterfest.

The action by workers represented by Local 264, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, came on the same day that city negotiators sent a rebuttal brief to a state fact-finder.

The document argues that city blue-collar employees are better compensated than their counterparts in Rochester, Syracuse, Lockport and Erie County governments.

In the latest salvo in the two-year labor dispute, David A. Christopher, Local 264 president, accused city officials of bargaining in bad faith.

"They've stalled. They've lied to us. They keep going after our retirees," Christopher charged.

Employees who staff the Parks and Streets divisions of the city's Public Works Department and several other other units have been working without a contract for 20 months. Christopher said the biggest impediment involves the administration's push for a 25-percent co-pay for retirees with family medical insurance. Currently, no co-payments are required.

But Human Resources Commissioner Kathleen E. O'Hara claimed the union has stubbornly refused to make a counterproposal to the co-pay provision.

"They just sat there with their arms folded, rejecting the offer," she said. "It's hard to negotiate with people who won't counter on your offers."

The Masiello administration is offering 3 percent annual pay increases over three years. City negotiators said the union was seeking 9 percent raises in each of the three years, but Christopher said wages no longer are a primary issue.

The administration's push for more control in assigning employees to various shifts remains a major impediment, sources said.

Negotiators for both sides agree on one thing: The dispute will end up in front of the Common Council, which can impose a one-year salary agreement when all other avenues fail to produce a contract. The most recent 3 percent salary increase given to blue-collar workers was imposed by the Council.

The fact-finder is expected to issue a report in a month, but the recommendations are non-binding.

Louis R. Giardina, city director of employee relations, claimed union negotiators would prefer the Council to impose a settlement.

"They run up there because they know they probably won't be asked for any give-backs," he said.

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